28 September 2005

the impossible

"When did you start learning this piece? Don't tell me last week... Last week? Okay, you really know how to impress me."

Geert's words are still ringing in my head. I never, ever imagined that I would impress him, certainly not to this degree. He's no Jeff in his sparingness of praise, but he certainly is economical with it, and thinks nothing of laughing at my mishaps. Hearing praise from a carillonneur whom I could never equal was surreally exhilarating. He even asked if I've been spending all of my time practicing, to which I readily replied "absolutely not," and was impressed that I'm applying for another round of fellowships. Now I've set a ridiculous standard for myself to keep up for the rest of year. And he told me that I should find him at the school on Saturday if I have questions, that I should play in Sint-Romboutstoren as often as possible, that I could even play in Antwerpen and Lier to practice for my exam once I've built up a repertoire of five or so pieces. Thank goodness he doesn't have other carillon students going for the diploma this year. It's time to get cracking.

Drinking with my fellow BAEF fellows was awesome. It was, I believe, the first time I felt at home amongst a group of people in Belgium since I moved here. Sure, we were the drunken Americans at whom everyone else in the bars and restaurants were glancing disapprovingly, and I even went so far as to begin the evening by bringing an absurdly chocolate-and-walnut-slathered waffle into a classy bar 45 minutes after the appointed meeting time. Nevertheless, everyone was super friendly and interesting, and although I'm the baby amongst them, we never ran out of things to chat about. Complain as we may that the Fulbright organizes get-togethers for its scholars while the BAEF thinks it's a novel theoretical idea, we are lucky to be able to get along so well just by organizing our own little shindig.

I am so grateful for all I have here, and all the privileges I'm enjoying. The mosquito situation has improved, albeit at great chemical-exposure-expense to myself. More about that later--it will make great story-telling--perhaps not quite on the level of the Zandpoortvest debacle, but nevertheless, it cracked up plenty of people tonight.

27 September 2005

bugging out

Today I received a slew of messages on Friendster from people who mostly had something to say to me. Utterly unprecedented (and nice, as I am still am not getting quite the amount of normal social interaction required to keep sane).

The mosquito problem is truly growing into a nightmare, however. I don't know how they get into my room, but they never let me alone. Even coating my body in 30% DEET didn't stop several new bites from appearing on my face, which I reluctantly slathered with DEET as well. My parents are shipping other supplies on request at enormous expense, but they probably still won't arrive soon due to customs. I'm just being foolish by crying, but it is discouraging to be helpless and far from home and environments in which I know how to address these problems. If last night I was alarmed by a hive outbreak, today wasn't any better, with one of the new bites growing to over 2 inches in diameter with significant vertical swelling. My arachnophobia has now unhelpfully extended itself to mosquitoes, so that trying to kill them is an increasingly terrifying experience. It sucks to be a wuss.

I got the jacket today, but passed out in an irresistable bout of sleepiness before I could go practice at the school... possibly due, I'm afraid, to depression. It's difficult to imagine another expanation. Anyway, I suppose I should close up and wrap my head in a scarf, as I managed to kill only two of the three mosquitoes I spotted in my room tonight.

26 September 2005


I have passed my entrance exam and am now a vrije student at the Koninklijk Vlaams Conservatorium Antwerpen, studying the organ with Joris Verdin! So at least for this semester's studies, the major building blocks are finally in place. Not only that, but I now have a fellow student and friend in Lier. Tomorrow I'll be coming home with a badass jacket from the Antwerp H&M (the big one--there are 3 or 4 H&M's on that one shopping block!!!) just as I promised myself I would if I passed. Furthermore, I have at long last found a fast, friendly sit-down Asian noodle bar. I cannot imagine that there even exists a niche for such a service, but perhaps people go there just for the "novelty" of the experience that I have missed so dearly since coming to this leisurely country.

However, tonight I burst into tears at my helplessness against my increasingly severe allergic reactions to mosquito bites (tonight I actually had a hive attack while practicing from 11 pm to 1 am), inability to find anything effective agianst mosquitos in Belgium--probably just because I'm a foreigner--and the problems with my shower. It's exhilarating and so difficult to be in a strange land. But at least now I have my decaf Earl Grey.

24 September 2005

campanology thesis prospectus

The holdings of the carillon museum of the Royal Carillon School “Jef Denyn” range from a drilbu (Tibetan hand bell) to period European carillon consoles. However, casual visitors unversed in campanology can find little in the museum to teach them about these objects. I would like to create an informational brochure, general overview signs, descriptive object labels, and a complete exhibition catalog for the benefit of both the carillon students and the general public. Once these are available, I hope to organize and promote a day of public tours. I would also like to make photographs and, when relevant, audio files available with the above information on the school’s website. With the holdings of the museum readily accessible online, perhaps even in multiple languages, the website can serve as a valuable conduit for the international promotion of the carillon. My objective is thus in line with the motto emblazoned within the museum: UITSTRALING VAN ONZE BEIAARDKUNST.

My thesis will comprise the catalog as well as a section of research on bell exhibits. After traveling to bell and carillon museums in Belgium, The Netherlands, England, and France, I will write an overview of those exhibits. It may be possible to develop a general classification system for bell museums, and thereby develop broad guidelines for their development and recommendations for improvement. Finally, I will include a bibliography of books and exhibition catalogs to assist readers in writing descriptive labels for bells.

There occasionally exist collections of bells in art or musical instrument museums that remain neglected, for example at the Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments (YUCMI), because most curators have little knowledge of or interest in bells. I will attempt to track down significant collections of this type and list them in an appendix to increase the possibility that research will one day be done on them.

The Virtual Instrument Museum of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, USA may serve as a model for the online carillon museum. John Bordley has been kind enough to offer the use of his digital SLR camera, so high-resolution photographs can easily be made available to researchers worldwide. I am helping YUCMI develop a similar online bell exhibit via The Museum System database software. With two bell exhibits online, I hope to generate further international interest in campanology and the rich resources of the Royal Carillon School “Jef Denyn”.

23 September 2005

what the devil

It still bewilders me how there can be so much music and art and outdoor events and everything in such a tiny little city and such a tiny little country. I would elaborate, but there's another concert coming up that I want to attend tonight!

How does one get to see Between the Devil and the Wide Blue Sea?

21 September 2005

[renewed] carillon fervor

My first official carillon lesson at the school was all that I could have hoped for. Geert changed my entire conception of Ravel's "La Vallee des Cloches" and suggested so many ways of playing the carillon that I had never even tried before that I'm going to have to learn the piece and how to play the damn instrument from scratch again in the next 7 days. He also took my request for repertoire recommendations and ran mad with it. I now have a centimeter-high pile of new music, most of which I am dying to learn and was very tempted to go to the school at 11 pm to delve into. Unfortunately, I can't fully go on a carillon rampage with my audition for Joris Verdin looming on Monday and all of my freakin fellowship applications on the brain. Why does my world never stop spinning too fast for me to concentrate on what I want?

However, I shouldn't complain. I may have no clue where my organ shoes are, be several months out of practice, behind on everything, a little lonely, and exhausted, but the high-stress plane of existence is the one to which I always gravitate. So much for worrying that I'd never be able to keep myself as occupied as I could at Yale, where everything in the world is going on but squashed all into one campus. That concentrated ball of possibility has exploded back to planet size, and I'm not having any trouble availing myself of it.

It's a little unreal to be studying with one of my carillon idols--yes, you'd glimpse a bit of idol worship in my eyes if you watched me closely at a lesson--and to be perhaps his only carillon performance student this year. He stopped teaching performance recently, which is puzzling since he's a brilliant teacher. I come out of every lesson feeling like I've found a brand new way to play the instrument, what a revelation, oh my! And now I'm putting pressure on myself to live up to being that one student. Perhaps that's good for me.

Since my arrival in Belgium, I haven't felt the need to practice earnestly. I expected that my first lesson would inspire that need in me, but in a direction I couldn't predict, and therefore any advance preparation would soon become irrelevant. Strangely, the piece I chose to play turned out to be, in his opinion, one of the most difficult pieces he's ever performed. If Geert D'hollander of all people made the same comment about a piece I hadn't learned, I would have assumed that it was well-nigh impossible to play. If I think I've been playing it, there is clearly much more to it than met my eye... I got way more than I bargained for when I jotted it in as "filler" in my GCNA repertoire list.

The carillon is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I don't know how I ever found it, but I'm fully under its spell, and feeling thus while living my dream day by day is only proof that I'm doomed to remain bewitched.

19 September 2005


"back to CARILLON school"! yes, today was our first day of school. campanology professor koen cosaert summed up the belgian way neatly: "we have everything on paper, but we don't act according to what's written." i was completely lost from the moment i showed up, because everyone's assigned schedules were turned around completely. and nobody thought to tell me that i was supposed to have lunch with the professors. instead, i tried out the only thai restaurant in town and then went lipstick shopping!

campanology was super exciting. apparently nobody has ever really done anything with the carillon museum. it's been sitting around with nobody to care for it for half a century. so if i published a catalog with photos and accompanying website for my thesis, it would be a huge contribution to the school. koen was delighted at the idea, but not half as pleased as me, i can assure you. furthermore, i'm going to incorporate visiting bell museums around europe into my thesis project, and hopefully medieval manuscript research as well. scoooore! i always seem to dig up the most random neglected things and decide they're the most interesting research topics ever. this has been an invaluable skill in academia.

cooked myself a genuine asian meal tonight of chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and vegetarian pho. i never imagined that asian food of all things would become my outlet for homesickness, especially considering how much i used to resent chinese cuisine.

it's good to have internet access from my room for the first time ever since i moved to belgium.

17 September 2005


Poster for Klara Festival, Brussels
On signs, book covers, trash cans, etc.:

Feminisme voor dummies
Gratis sex
Rentokil (on a feminine napkin disposal receptacle)
Above poster was for the KlaraFestival Minimalism Weekend in Brussels

To be continued...

11 September 2005

i hate the world

enough said.

door zone

There is something to be learned from the bike lanes here, which are generally elevated to half the level of the sidewalks, in a different brick color, and wide enough for two cyclists. Unlike on your typical American bike lane--which you should generally ignore--you can ride outside of the 'door zone' here and not crash into the door of some idiot motorist who didn't bother to see you coming. (The outcome of such accidents, which is usually injury or death for the cyclist and nothing much for the motorist, seems to me to defy natural selection.) This Belgian design seems very useable, and Cyclists Against Bike Lanes would have to reevaluate its agenda here since there are simply so goddamn many bikes. In fact, today off the Grote Markt was an entire two-level portable used bike store. Incredible.

My biking buddy of bygone days Mark appears to be rocking New Haven again, and sent me a great list of social effects of motorized transport, including this tidbit: "Equipped with [a bicycle], man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well."

In my fledgling roadgeek-hood, I have found a Yahoo! group about abandoned highways. Perhaps someone there knows about the abandoned stretch in CT that Joe mentioned. Interestingly, a lot of progress is being made in turning the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike into a bike trail. Like the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail (of which my fascinating friend Will Farnam's great-grandfather was the engineer) and the High Line in New York, abandoned thoroughfares seem to be coming back to life all over the place. Which is great, although it means fewer abandoned roads to explore.

The people in stores today were very friendly and inquisitive. Maybe it's a weekend thing. On my way to the home repair store, I stumbled across not only the mysterious bike activity (which turned out to be free bike repair offered by the city) for which I had seen Dutch posters, but also a GIGANTIC Rommelmarkt (flea market) that had overtaken an entire neighborhood--I shopped for over an hour and still didn't get to see it all. There is so much to discover here that I worry that all the interesting events must be happening in September and the rest of the year will be dull. How many wonderful surprises can one little city have up its sleeve?

Small surprises also abound. Like the BMX fountain pen that I bought at the supermarkt today, or the "diet" Special K cereal interspersed with dark chocolate shavings. I must have been Belgian in a past life, because while I bought this on the spot and thought it the greatest thing ever, I can imagine why the American company Kellogg's doesn't market it in the US--people would never trust it to be healthy. And who knows, perhaps it contains a lot more calories than boring American Special K--but here, you walk/bike the extra kJ off on the way home from the store anyway.

I am finally developing the ability to figure out what words mean in Dutch without looking them up, and every realization feels like a grand revelation. Furthermore, I am finally done painting. Biked home with a giant CASA bag with three holes draped over me though pouring rain and thunder and lightning, stepped into puddles probably tainted with gasolene in my flipflops, and didn't mind any of it in the least. Truly a remarkable adjustment for a self-declared hydrophobe.

09 September 2005

missed Music for Airports

The new Audi A8 of the sheikh of Dubai is made of real silver. Pretty sweet, but I prefer metallic silver (paint) myself.

Today was one of those days. I woke up with two boils on my right foot looking larger and more disgusting than ever. Even Tom was grossed out. The day was grey and drizzly, although surprisingly not to the point that I really minded. At 3 pm, I was determined to seize the opportunity to hear Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" performed live at Brussels International Aiport, but of course had so many bike and train mishaps on the way that I decided to cut my losses at Brussel-Noord and return to Mechelen, where I proceded to miss the Choir of King's College Cambridge concert (including Tallis and Allegri's 'Miserere Deus,' which Mozart transcribed from memory when the music was considered too sacred to be distributed) in Zichem because I figured I would miss the trains for that too. Not to mention that the address of the venue was nowhere to be found. So I spent my Friday evening alone, houseware shopping in Mechelen and painting. After two days of painting, my room is almost liveable. I should be able to finish tomorrow. At the moment, I can't decide whether I want to go to Brussels for the Michael Nyman Band at KlaraFestival, or just attend the King's College Choir concert on Sunday night and the following Minimalism weekend. Should I attend the Mahler 'Ressurection Symphony' concert on Thursday for the usual idiotic reason?

Just killed a mosquito for perhaps the third time in my life. I feel terrible about the person who clearly had to wipe last night's squashed mog off the wall. Good thing this mouse doesn't really need a mousepad...

himmelblau Wände

This Zurich sign for "In the city without my auto" is disturbing in an awesome kind of way, although I suppose it isn't so disturbing unless you've seen the animation. It's part of a huge movement called Mobility Week Europe. I am scrambling to figure out what Carfree events are going on in Flemish Belgium (can always escape to NL if need be) and paying close attention to the bike culture and unwritten rules. Also on the lookout for good ride partners. Incidentally, get a load of this: Climate Alliance of European Cities with Indigenous Rainforest Peoples. Like are these folks for real or what?

Diving right into the culture here so far hasn't been a problem. I'm sure there must be such a thing as culture shock, but if it's going to hit me, it had better make itself more obvious. I spent the afternoon painting a room for the first time--my room, of course, im Himmelblau, a cross between the colors of the student rooms I've liked most at Yale (Derek's and my room in SAE). Bright blue and orange are going to be my decor colors, and somehow in Belgium they are much easier to obtain than in the US. Really having the time to decorate and having all the shops I need within walking/biking distance is a tremendous change for me, and another reminder that I am out in the 'real world' beyond the Yale bubble.

Everything I could possibly want in Belgium is practically outside my doorstep--cafes, bars, markets, cheap home furnishings, craft shops, wine, chocolate, carillons...and even--would you believe it--the Michiels building, right around the corner. In how many cities in the world would your chances of living down the street from an old bellfounder be this high? Even better, I can hear bells outside just distantly enough to not be distracted, but just clearly enough to be reminded that I am indeed in the land that has enchanted me with its bells from my first visit onward.

Of course, I remain haunted by darker memories... nearly cried for a moment as I was painting and listening to "See the Sun." Only for a moment. The rest of the afternoon and evening have been sweaty painting and bliss.

Amaaaazing fact: I.M. Pei has designed a carillon in Japan. Another amazing fact: the tallest carillon tower in the world houses a defunct carillon in Mexico City.

07 September 2005


Would you believe that today is the first day that I've allowed myself to walk into a chocolate store? There was really no other appropriate way to end a beautiful evening wandering around the at once quaint, metropolitan, ornately Baroque, liquidly Art Nouveau cobblestone streets of Bruxelles. I am utterly enamored by the city, but I have to keep reminding myself that Tom and I have found the ideal place to live, and that Bruxelles really has nothing to do with me besides this little love affair I'm having with it. I knew it was just up my alley when I strolled by chance into a photography reception and enjoyed photos of local architecture over a free glass of wine. Better yet, I found a luxuriantly flamboyant 6-euro scarf and stores selling every Belgian beer glass I could want, and I was able to pass as a local en français. There are just enough freaks in Bruxelles to make me feel at home, and the population is much more international and sophisticated. I'm going to have to get over being raised in San Francisco, where Caucasians are a minority, right quick if I'm going to survive a year in little old Mechelen.

Ran into Eddy Mariën and an interesting Dutch fellow named Richard, son of Gerard de Waart, attempted to adjust to the European standard clavier for a few hours, signed the paperwork on our rooms for the year, visited the French ice cream maker, browsed some bookstores, and still feel like I haven't accomplished anything today. Gotta escape this damned Yale mindset before the slowness of European life drives me batty.

Milk chocolate with rice pieces at Leonidas = Nestlé Crunch + crack. Nobody to share it with = major bummer.

06 September 2005

a grand day

Tom and I found student rooms today in a house on Adegemstraat, just across the Dijle canal and right by the city center. The landlady and her husband are extremely kind and excited to have two musicians aboard. With a supermarkt, two boat restaurants, chocolate stores galore, shopping, and a tea/whole-bean-coffee store filled with heavenly scents within several blocks of the place (just to mention some highlights), we couldn't have found a better location. Usually these particular rooms are rented by May or June, but clearly they were meant for us! I am taking the one with private bathroom (complete with friendly spider in the tub) and zebra lamp for a mere 200 euros a month... gonna paint the walls light blue à la Derek's senior single in Pierson. Pierson! What foreign words these Yale names seem already. Too bad the language is still utterly foreign here as well. Now I'm not entirely comfortable anywhere anymore.

The real highlight of the day, as i mentioned earlier and am happy to blab about again, was buying a women's Rincon mountain bike in Gunmetal Grey. Nice bikes don't come cheap in Belgium, but after four years of ole Purple, this baby feels like heaven on wheels. Unfortunately, the bike store folks weren't half as friendly as those in New Haven (maybe because I'm the stupide Américain?). I was also offended that the dude insisted on explaining how to change gears even after I started laughing, but whatever, I'm a stupide Américain (they don't actually say that here--they don't even speak French), and I have no pride. I hopped right on it and biked way out of the city along the bike lanes (which are on the sidewalk), but everyone young and old was passing me and narrowly missing small children, save one slow old nun in her wimple. Eventually I reached a roundabout where a chicken was randomly pecking around the street. At that point, I decided it probably wasn't so smart to bounce my exotic boobs around the Belgian boonies on my third day in the country too much, so I headed back and biked around the city until I was faint with hunger, which after a bit of a disaster at a Belgian cafe was quickly addressed by/at Mister Pitta.

All I really need in life is a bike, a carillon or two, and a place to sleep every now and then. Or so I'd like to think. I wish Bob had been here to help me choose a non-purple bike. I wish I had someone with whom to even go biking! Then we could head straight for the Alps...from Mechelen. No problemo. Everyone and their mothers and grandmothers ride bikes here, but just to get around. So far I've only seen a few mountain bikes and one leather-clad dude on a crotch rocket. Bah humbug. Who needs badass motorcycle boys when you can become your own badass motorcycle girl! Once you pay off all your credit card debts from a year ago, when you were carilloning and biking and cooking and eating and Stammtisch-ing instead of earning money! Yes indeedy!

Pictures yet to come; this DPC Pastoraal Centrum PC doesn't like my camera too much. At least my neighborhoood Frenchman/engineer/chemist Alexandre showed me this nice computer tucked into a random 2nd floor room so that I don't have to pay the Internet cafes. Instead, my euros are going to the...'dollar' stores (for lack of a better term), where I am finding the holy grail of bedding... orange sheets! Cheap-ass orange sheets, admittedly. But after four years of searching, I'll take just about any thread count that comes my way.

my baby

If you know me truly, you know that there are only two worldly possessions to which I would ever refer as "my baby." Think about it. 1...2...3...

The Answer: bikes and carillons (interchangeable with carillon towers).

Now that I am lacking the latter, I am compensating with the former: a brand spanking new Giant Rincon mountain bike that for once is light enough for me to carry. The cats at the Pastoraal Centruum seemed to take a particular liking to it, rubbing themselves against it to declare it their own. All in all, two month's worth of rent well spent.